(Not So) Common Sense
Out of the mouths of the elderly...
By Carole Townsend
A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of traveling to South Carolina to talk to several groups who had invited me to do so. Often, I'm invited to talk to groups about the wellness of the family and domestic violence. More often, however, I'm invited to talk to folks about one or more of my books.
One of the groups I had the pleasure of addressing last week consisted mainly of seniors, and I don't mean the high school or college variety. I mean the kind of seniors who have lived full, long, productive lives. The kind of seniors who are just embarking on their retirement years, and the kind who have spent a couple of decades hovering there.
I love speaking to groups like this one. There were about 75 people in the room that evening, give or take a few. They ranged in age from, I'd say, age 55 all the way up to age 99. I remember the 99-year-old. He asked me to marry him. Twice. His name is Lucas, and he's a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker with a taste for red wine and an extensive knowledge of all things in the "cured meats" category.
Anyway, this group had invited me to come and talk to them about my latest book, Blood in the Soil. Anyone who does public speaking with any regularity has a formula, an order that they follow as their "talk" unfolds. For example, I like to start by thanking my hosts, then move on into an amusing story or even a joke, and then I get down to the business at hand. Most audiences appreciate that and are content to listen to a talk that follows such a conventional blueprint.
Except seniors. Seniors are on their own time clock, their own agenda. They say what they want, when they want. I'll give you an example. At this particular event to which I had been invited to speak, beer, wine and hors d'oeuvres were served. As guests entered the arena, trickling in at first, coming at a more steady pace as the hour approached, I was (as my agent calls it) "working the room." I was down on the floor where the tables had been placed and elegantly decorated, greeting guests, shaking hands and making light conversation.
Then Lucas showed up – Lucas, with his band of brothers. These guys were the ones who, back in the day, sat in the back of the classroom or the school bus and made life difficult for other kids. As I approached their group and extended my hand for an introduction, one of the gentlemen yelled, "I hear there was gonna be beer. You see any beer, Lou?" Looking at me, the same man asked, "What are we here for tonight. You selling something?"
I just smiled my "working the room" smile and said, "Why yes. Tonight, we're talking about a book that I wrote..." My answer was cut short by a remark from the back of Lou's crowd: "I knew it." Tough crowd.
Really though, the crowd was a delightful one. The audience listened raptly as I shared just enough of the details of the book to whet their appetites. However, during my talk that lasted, oh I'd say, maybe 20 minutes, I was interrupted several times. Once, when I was on a roll, cleverly building to a suspenseful pitch, a woman sitting at one of the tables yelled, "How much if I buy both books tonight? Is there a senior citizen discount?" The event organizers exchanged glances and stifled smiles. I stumbled over my words – just for a second, mind you – and continued like a champ.
"Dear, I said how much for both books if I buy them tonight. Is there a discount?" I didn't know what else to do but walk down the few steps that led to the podium, walk over to the lady, and answer her question. As soon as I did that, she grabbed up two books, "ran" to the cashier to pay for them, then met me back on stage so that I could sign them. And I did.
Gathering my thoughts to get back on track, I continued speaking. I had gotten back into my groove, feeling pretty good about holding everyone's attention (you get a feel for such things when you've done enough public speaking, believe me). Then, from somewhere out on the floor a little old lady shouted, "I heard there were dirty words. What page are they on?"
I drew a blank. Did she really just ask me that? Smiling, I replied, "Well yes, there are a few. The telling of any story is in the truth of it...." I began, but she wasn't listening. Instead, she was furiously thumbing through the book looking for "dirty words," as though they might have been highlighted in yellow for her benefit.
The evening continued in this manner, with a few more speed bumps I had to scale before finally wrapping up.
One sweet woman, seemingly as prim and proper as anything ever grown here in the South, shouted, "Where the hell is YOUR red lipstick?" She was referring, of course, to the title of my second book, and to the fact that I was not wearing red lipstick. Never do. I'm allergic to it.
The marriage proposal came well after my formal talk had ended. It came during the Question and Answer session I always try to include at the end of every talk. There was Lucas and the rest of his rowdy crowd, sitting (of course) in the back of the hall, with quite a collection of beer bottles stacked neatly on the table. I took a couple more questions before giving him the floor, hoping he'd give up if I kept skipping him. No such luck.
"Hey Red, I have two questions. One, will you marry me? I don't have long, but you can bet I'll show you a good time." I smiled, that smile begging him to move on to his second question. "What are yous gonna do with all that leftover meat? You're not gonna throw it out are you?" To that last question, another gentleman informed Lou that the meat was pepperoni, and that made Lucas completely forget his marriage proposal.
"Pepperonis? Don't tell ME about pepperonis...." And he launched into the difference between "pepperonis" one can get in New York as compared to those one can purchase anywhere else in the United States.
I did really well that evening, selling quite a few books and making many new friends to boot. Driving back to my hotel that evening, I had to smile. Those people reminded me very much of my dad, whom I lost when he was 93 years old. He said whatever popped into his head, whenever it popped up. And as a rule, people accommodated him on that because, as he said, he'd lived long enough to earn that consideration.
No matter how many groups a speaker addresses over the years, I believe it to be true that every group has its own personality. I have to say that the group of seniors I met that night in South Carolina was one of the most fun and interesting I've had the privilege of addressing.
Not only did I enjoy myself, but I also learned an awful lot about real pepperonis. I also learned that it's perfectly all right for a lady to drink the last few drops of wine from the bottle; I saw it done a few times that evening. "Waste not, want not," said a retired school teacher from Beaufort, dabbing at the corners of her mouth with a fine linen hanky.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was published in 2016. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her previous three books are written with Southern humor. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national true crime radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and at www.caroletownsend.com. When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, writing, family and life in her beloved South.